Robots Ate My Job

Taking humans out of the supermarket checkout

Ann Heppermann Mar 27, 2012

Jeremy Hobson: This week here at Marketplace, we’re looking at how new technology is changing the American workforce. We’re calling our series ‘Robots Ate My Job.’ And to illustrate the issue, David Brancaccio of our Economy 4.0 unit is driving across the country without interacting with a single human being — just technology.

As for the people who are being replaced by that technology — well, they’re not too happy about it.

Jackie Gitmed: My name is Jackie Gitmed, and I’m a cashier and I’ve been with Ralph’s for over 35 years.

Ashley Schwartz: And my name is Ashley Schwartz and I’ve been with Ralph’s for close to six years.

Gitmed: I’ve been doing this for over 35 years now, and if I didn’t like to be with the people — my customers — I would have chosen something else.

Schwartz: I was raised as a grocery baby — my dad has been with Ralph’s for 40, he’s going on 43 years I believe?

Gitmed: And I too, my father was in the industry for 50 years, so I’m second-generation, actually third-generation — my grandmother was a cashier.

Schwartz: I came from a store, a Ralph’s store that didn’t have self-checkouts and now they do.

Gitmed: They call them robots, each terminal is called a robot.

Schwartz: So when I started working at this store, it was totally new to me.

Gitmed: At first, we were like this is funny, yeah sure, and then it got to be ‘wow they want to get rid of us.’

Schwartz: Oh yeah, it’s been awful. I didn’t really think about it because I was getting such good hours for a while, and now I’m getting, at the most, 32 hours now.

Gitmed: And there’s a lot of theft that goes on with these self-checkouts.

Schwartz: I had a woman come through self-checkout and I watched her put stuff in the bag that she hadn’t scanned and then when it flagged the weight and I went over to look, she insisted she scanned them. And it was such a fight and I was dealing with four other stations, I had no choice, I just had to clear it.

Gitmed: To them it’s worth it, the price of saving labor is worth whatever people take. You know, what happened to people? We need people, we need that contact with people. We really aren’t robots.

Schwartz: When I first started, you know, when I first started I could’ve wanted to stay in this job for my career, I loved it.

Gitmed: I actually went to college and this is what I chose because I could change my schedule if I needed to go to school with my daughter. So people do chose retail, these are not jobs that people chose not to have. And now, I cannot go pick up and go somewhere else. And 51 years old, quite frankly, no one’s going to want to hire me.

Schwartz: You know before this was a good job, it was OK to stay, but now it makes me want to get out of this industry because you don’t know what the future holds.

HOST: Lots more on robots and the American workforce in the series, Robots Ate My Job, including a great video about the hidden robots that are all around us.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.